I am currently building up a phone mast map of all the ‘ping’ locations that exist in the PJ files re Madeleine’s disappearance. I believe this is necessary to progress the case but, to be honest, this defines boring. Therefore it falls upon me to see if I can dress up this exercise as something a bit more exciting.
The phone-mast contact in question here was by Fiona Payne. Fiona was the only one of the Tapas 9 who did not use her own mobile at the time of Madeleine McCann’s disappearance. This contact came from a little while later on a return to Portugal. That little conundrum has nothing to do with this post, so I will move on swiftly to simply looking at the contact.
The contact was made in Mexilhoeira Grande. This is just to the east of Odiáxere. Hardened veterans of the Madeleine McCann story will know that Odiáxere is where the GNR car was when the phone call to the police said a girl was missing. So we are in a fairly pertinent location.
Without trying to send you to sleep, here is how to find the phone masts relevant to Madeleine’s disappearance.
Step 1. A mention of the phone mast in the PJ files is a distinct help. This gives the general area. In today’s case, the mast is named as Mexilhoeira Grande, which gives a rough starting area.
Step 2. Google Streetview. If the area is hilly, the chances are the mast is on top of a large hill. If the area is flat, the chances are the mast is stuck on top of something man-made that is high.
Mexilhoeira Grande is flat, in Algarve terms, so the mast should be on something tall that built by man. Google Streetview shows the water tower for Mexilhoeira Grande is a tall structure on the north of the town. A quick squizz shows it is also the local telecoms tower.
So that was quite easy and painless, but what does it tell us?
The radius on which a mast operates is of the order of 1.5 to 2 miles. That’s how big a cell is in a cellphone network. That is the limit to how much narrowing down we can do if a mast and phone are talking to each other.
Forget triangulation re the Madeleine McCann case. It is true that one can triangulate (in a way) using phone mast data, but to do so requires the control information. That is when nearby masts are working out which mast is best positioned to take over a call. This control information does not exist in the files for the Madeleine McCann case. What we have is traffic – calls and texts – but no control information.
So, what can we tell from the fact that Fiona Payne’s mobile made contact with the Mexilhoeira Grande mast?
On that single contact alone, the intelligence we can gather is depressingly little.
Here is a graphic that has the precise location of the Mexilhoeira Grande contact for Fiona Payne. I have picked an arbitrary radius of 2 miles, and located it out to the airstrip to the south-east.
To be honest, I would guess that there is a different mast talking to the airport, but I simply want to illustrate a difficulty that faced the PJ in 2007, and one that faces Scotland Yard now. Where was Fiona Payne’s phone when this phone-mast contact was made?
She could have been at the airport. Or the hotel and golf resort of Penina, to the east. She could have been watching football at the footie ground in Mexilhoeira Grande, or visiting the neighbouring villages of Várzea do Farelo, Corta Ventos, Esteveira, or Fontainhas.
Depending on the transmitter range, she might have been as far away as Arão, Eira Velhas, Descampadinho, or Vale de Lama. I happen to doubt these possibilities, but that is only because I have already located a phone mast in Odiáxere, and that seems to be closer.
Now here’s what the PJ faced then and what SY now are facing. What was happening here? Joining up the data, Fiona seems to have been in the eastern Algarve earlier on the same day, oddly enough around a place called Luz near Tavira. This phone contact seems to have been on the journey back from that trip to base at Luz, Lagos in the western Algarve.
But here is the rub. I cannot tell from the pattern if this was actually the case. Fiona could have stopped (in one of the many locations above) or she could have been travelling. She could have been on the old, slow road (N125) to the south of the map, or the new, fast road (A22) to the north. For speed, the A22 made sense, but for scenic value the N125 was much better.
When the media pops up that SY can triangulate people to in and around 5A, please feel free to have a laugh. I cannot tell from the data whether Fiona Payne was on the A22, the N125, or had stopped off for a comfort break.
Just as no-one looking at the phone date for 3rd May 2007 can locate a phone contact in Luz to more accurately than the radius covered by Luz comms tower, which happens to be most of Luz, part or all of Espiche, and chunks of the N125.